Tuesday 31 January 2023

"Aboriginal" or "aboriginal"?

I was told off yesterday for using "aboriginal" instead of "Aboriginal". The person who did this told me that using "aboriginal" with a small "a" was "disrespectful" and I should be "using a capital".

Really? I sent a message to my friend M... who is aboriginal, very aboriginal. What did he think? Had I been doing the wrong thing for years?

The answer came back very smartly, "FFS doesn't she know the difference between an adjective and a noun?" 

Apart from the capitals at the beginning, uncharacteristic of M..., that had been my thinking too. I am "white", not "White" and M.... sees himself as "aboriginal" not "Aboriginal". If M... wanted capital letters then he would use Barngarla/Wirangu. Those are tribal names. 

I think V...'s comment about "disrespectful" comes from something else altogether. She likes to think of herself as a strong supporter of all things relating to aboriginal people and culture. She believes she knows a great deal about what they want "because (she) has worked with them". Her support for the proposal for a "Voice" to be enshrined in our Constitution is absolute. Anyone who questions any aspect of it at all is "wrong".

It is good that someone feels so passionately about these things and sees themselves as a force for good. I can admire her for it even when I believe my responses, such as the one above, are more cautious.

Later in the day I was talking to M....'s sister. She has retired but still calls in at a small unit for very elderly aboriginal people on a regular basis. There was a new resident, a non-speaker. The stroke which has deprived this once proud man of his speech has also left him very depressed. Mt.... was wondering what could be done to help him. We have come up with some ideas but I was glad of Mt...'s input so I was doing something appropriate. It was good to know that this elderly man objects to the use of the term "uncle" when there are other men who see it differently. ("Uncle" and "Aunty" are used not to denote relationship but status within the community in some circumstances.)

Is it time to stop making assumptions about how aboriginal people wish to be treated and really listen to them? The Voice, if it attempts to represent a view rather than many views, will fail as so many other attempts have failed before.  

Monday 30 January 2023

"Please be kind to our receptionists"

was an alarming note I saw as I went into a medical clinic on Friday. I wondered what had happened for that to need to appear.

I didn't know the receptionist I approached. She is new and a bit uncertain. I had gone in to pick up a prescription for a very elderly patient and this new receptionist wasn't sure she should give it to me. Fortunately the clinic's nurse came out at that point and said, "Hello Cat." She vouched for me and even made sure that I knew what the prescription was for so that I could explain it to the patient.

I pedalled off trying to work out what I would have done if the receptionist had refused to give me the prescription. A number of solutions presented themselves.  Any of them would have worked and I would probably have tried the clinic nurse one first. I might have asked the receptionist to speak to the doctor or perhaps to ring the patient after explaining how difficult it is for them to have a phone conversation these days. I might have waited for the other receptionist, who knows me, to come back from her lunch break. What I would not have done is become angry.

I went on from there to a place where I had inquired about getting a small job done. I had been asked to leave the object which needed altering with them so that their specialist worker could look at it. The woman I had spoken to earlier in the week had not been certain. That was fine with me. I would rather she found out. 

The owner of the business came out looking anxious. They couldn't do the job. "That's fine," I told her, "If you can't then you can't."

Her reaction surprised me. She looked relieved, so relieved I said, "I wasn't going to be angry if you couldn't."  If anything she looked even more relieved. 

The owner has lost the ability to speak in anything other than a faint whisper and she rarely appears at the desk. That is left to her staff - staff who are intensely loyal to her. I thought of how difficult it must be for her to run a small business in the way she does. How could I get angry if she was being honest enough to tell me she could not do something for me?

She held up her hand to stop me from leaving and wrote something down on a piece of paper. "Try them. Tell them I sent you," she told me. 

I thanked her and left. I haven't had a chance to try the suggestion yet but I will.  

On my way home I stopped at the upholstery business. The owner saves the left over dacron stuffing and passes it on to me to give to the charity toy makers. It would just get thrown out if they did not use it. It helps the upholsterer as well as the toy makers. There was a notice there asking people not to come into the shop if they were feeling unwell. It is a perfectly reasonable notice. If he isn't well he isn't working and he owns the business so he would not be getting an income. Apparently someone complained about that notice. I thought of the  notice asking people to be kind to the receptionists and the way the other business owner had looked relieved.

There seems to be something really wrong with the world right now. I hope it improves. Being pleasant and polite is so much easier than being angry isn't it?

Sunday 29 January 2023

The same but different?

There was a knock on the front door yesterday. I could guess who was there even before I went to answer it because I had heard their chatter. 

Yes, it was the five year old twins from further down the street. I haven't seen them for a couple of weeks. That is unusual in itself. They are usually to be seen going backwards and forwards to the little park around the corner. 

What was even more unusual was the fact they had not said "thank you" for the activity packs I had left at the front door around then. I thought it was odd. Then I wondered if I had done the wrong thing and their parents didn't want me to do something like that. 

No, it wasn't that at all. They were standing there with their new Christmas present scooters - and a small box of chocolates. They handed the chocolates over to me with giggles and grins. "It's to say "thank you" and we liked what was in the bags." Then they rushed off to try their scooters on the gentle slope of the driveway. Their mother looked at me and said, "We should have done this earlier but they used some of their pocket money and I had to wait."

D... is pregnant again and she looks tired. The girls start school next week and she admitted to me, "I am looking forward to that as much as they are."

It made me wonder what the "twin policy" is at the school the girls will be attending. It isn't far from here and the two boys across the street also go there.  D... wasn't really sure.

Her own policy now is to let the girls decide whether they want to be the same or different. They are "identical" but some days they wear the same outfits and other days they choose different outfits. When their mother buys their clothes they go too. They decide whether they both want pink t-shirts or whether A... will have a pink one and L...will have a lavender one. 

They will both have the same school uniform of course but their mother has that one sorted. "They will go to school wearing different coloured ribbons plaited into their hair so that everyone can tell the difference!" 

I am starting to be able to see differences between them too. They are rivals but also good friends. One of them loves any sort of art and craft. The other is more interested in playing games with her stuffed animals. Both of them like to "garden" and race around on their scooters. They are learning to "take turns" without adults telling them to do just that.

I once knew an identical twin who hated being a twin so much that she did not even speak to her sister. She left home as soon as she could and she would tell people, "Imagine having to sit opposite yourself at breakfast time! I hated it." She was almost insanely jealous of her sister. I met her sister at her funeral and she seemed, on that brief acquaintance, a very pleasant person who had found the whole situation very distressing.

The mother of A... and L... seems to me, despite having doubts sometimes, to have the balance right. She made the effort to make it sometimes the same and sometimes different. Now she is encouraging them to do the same. She wants them to grow up as individuals but still have that unique bond that twins can have. 

The twins rushed back on their scooters. Having tried the slope they could now tell me about their scooters. 

"They are the same but different," I was told. Could I guess how? I made the usual silly suggestions and they giggled some more. Then they showed me. "They have different pictures."

They are different pictures too - different aspects of the same landscape perhaps? 

Saturday 28 January 2023

Life's a beach?

It must be if you live near the beach which has just been described as the best in Downunder. I can hear my siblings now saying, "Oooh yes, if we lived close enough to walk to that one we could go swimming every day."

We knew the beach when my brother and I were in secondary school and the youngest kittens were in primary school. We lived on the island where the beach is situated. The problem for us was that the beach was much too far away to even contemplate riding our bikes let alone walking. It took about half an hour to get there in the car - over very rough roads.

When you did finally get there you then had to walk along a very stony path which hid the beach until almost the last moment. It was worth the walk even for me - and the Senior Cat would hold on to me all the way - because you suddenly came upon a bay with a natural and very safe swimming pool at one end. 

We kittens honed our swimming skills in that pool. It was situated just where the bay started to curve out into the ocean again. It was filled and emptied by the tide. There were no dangerous undercurrents. It was deep enough to dive into from the rocks at one end. At the other end it was safe enough for those with very beginner skills. It was the perfect space. 

If you were brave enough and actually had a surf board you could head further along the pristine white sand and catch a wave or two. It might not have been the best surfing beach in the world but the teenage boys seemed happy with it.

I have not been there for years. I am never likely to go again. It is possible there is a proper path to the beach now. Like the rest of the island it has been developed for the tourists. There were very few tourists back then. The locals had the place to themselves. There was never anyone much around.

There were other good beaches on the island too. There is one which will forever remain in my mind. There was a jetty there, the site of a security scare during WWII as quite large ships could dock there. You needed to look the other way to get the true beauty of the place. It had a very, very long sweep of white sand with a slow curve punctuated by rocks until you could almost see the bay where the seals liked to congregate. It must be at least seven or eight kilometres long. You still get a few beaches like that in the more remote areas of Scotland. Yes, you could swim there too - with care. It was not as safe as the other beach, certainly there were no lifeguards in either place. 

Those places seemed remote to us. They were remote. The roads that led to them were unsealed. Tourists did not venture into those places on a regular basis. Occasionally they would find their way by accident and wonder how people could live in such isolated places. Now there are holiday cottages. My darling Whirlwind and her father stayed in one twice. It was remote enough and quiet enough for C... to take a real break from his difficult work. Ms W loved it. She could read and draw for hours. They took long silent walks along the beach and "tried to forget anyone else was there".

When we lived on the island these were places we cherished. Perhaps our Scottish ancestry helped because by no means everyone cared for those places. At least for a time we liked the sense of remoteness. 

I don't want to go back. I suspect the tourists would spoil it for me. Is that very selfish? 

Friday 27 January 2023

Phone calls at 6am

are never likely to be a good but I was half-expecting this one. "Computer S..." , as opposed to my BIL "our S" and "gardening S..." keeps odd hours, knows I am usually up and around by then. As he is doing me a favour I could hardly grumble at him when he asked if he could come over "before it gets too hot". 

It is heading for 37'C today and S... is morbidly obese so I said yes. Three phone calls later - all from him - he arrived and has taken away the tower of the desk top computer. It is not working and I need it. This is one of the issues of working from home. The laptop is not nearly as comfortable to use and I do not have the same access to files on that...partly for reasons of convenience but also for security. I am now waiting for him to see if he can solve the problem with the help of his mate "Jo". I have not met his mate but, if they cannot do it between them, then the problem is insoluble. This is unlikely as they have a massive amount of knowledge between them.

S...was just on his way when I had yet another phone call. This one came just after 9am. It was from a solicitor's office in a town - now almost a suburb - on the other side of the city. The person at the other end asked for me by name and then told me that my late friend E...'s sister had died. My reaction probably shocked her because I am afraid I said, "Thank God for that." I meant it too because the last time I saw P..., a few days before Christmas, she was in a dreadful state and wanted desperately to die.  We chatted for a bit and she was still intellectually alert but the effort of caring for herself had clearly become too much. She refused all help offered and, when you have uncontrolled diabetes, this is dangerous. 

I had tried to keep my word to E... that I would watch out for P... but it was difficult. She resisted any overtures of friendship from anyone. Her days were spent walking the streets "for exercise" and reading. We had "coffee" together occasionally and I made her suitable biscuits at Christmas time. She lived in a very quiet block of units on a quiet street. She barely knew her neighbours - by choice. I think they cared more than she realised because they watched to make sure her bedroom blinds went up in the morning and down at night. One of them told me they were all concerned for her and "she's nice enough but not friendly". I knew what they meant.

And now it seems that the blind did not move and one of the other unit residents found her. There needs to be an autopsy. I had to inform her cousins, people with whom she had just Christmas card contact - and that reluctantly.

I have passed on P...'s simple funeral wishes and the solicitor's office will deal with that this time. P...'s life was not a happy one but it was the one she chose and I have to accept that. There will be just a handful of us to say our farewells. 

P... was just so different from her sister.


Thursday 26 January 2023

Being paid to do the job

or being paid something extra to do the same job?

Our "honours" list has just come out. There have also been the usual "....of the Year" awards - young and senior included.

I had a quick look through the lists this morning as I prowled my way through the online papers. Nothing much has changed. Over the past couple of decades the lists have become more and more "politically correct". Awards are given to people who are involved in activities that are deemed "worthwhile" by those in power. Sport features heavily in the lists. 

It is very rare to find an award given to someone who has spent forty years volunteering at the local opportunity shop or the same time keeping the local railway station tidy and the little garden alive. They rarely get thanked, let alone acknowledged in any public way.  

I went to a funeral yesterday. I went because her daughter has lived overseas for many years.  She did not know her mother's friends, indeed had never met them. I knew her only because her mother had needed some help with paperwork before moving, all too briefly, into an aged care residence. Her stay there was so brief I did not even have the opportunity to visit her a third time. Nobody else went at all.

And yet this woman had volunteered. She had worked in the school canteen, been on the school council, run a Scout troop, taught Sunday School, volunteered at a charity shop, belonged to a service organisation and more. She had even been a founding member of a now state wide crafting organisation, the Secretary, Treasurer and twice President of the organisation.  She was good at those jobs and pleasant with it.

I was surprised to find less than twenty people at her service. It was not private. It was not "invitation only". In the space of four years people simply seemed to have forgotten her and all she had done for them. I wonder how this could happen when the church was full for the Senior Cat's service, full of people from many parts of his life. I know that Covid has not helped these things but it seemed to be more than that.

Why are some people "forgotten" and others are not? 

Wednesday 25 January 2023

An alcohol ban or

something else? Is it really going to make a difference?

The Prime Minister of Downunder finally gave in to pressure and went to Alice Springs yesterday. I doubt it has done much good but perhaps he will now have some faint, very faint, idea of the extent of the problems there.

Alice Springs is in the centre of the continent. It is generally dry and dusty. The "river" which runs through it actually boasts a yacht race run over dry ground. 

It is a town which grew up around the Overland Telegraph Line in 1872. The north-south railway line across the continent also passes through it.  Alice Springs is now largely a point of departure for tourist destinations such as Uluru (Ayre's Rock), the Olgas and King's Canyon.

The main indigenous tribe are the Arrernte (pronounced Arundta) people but there are others. There are at least three different languages in use besides English. That is worth noting because language is sometimes used as a weapon, particularly if someone is in trouble with the courts.

Alice Springs and the surrounding area has a very high rate of domestic violence and unemployment. There are major issues with housing, health and education. A great deal of this is alcohol related. Recently the problems have been so great that "intervention" has been discussed by some. 

Things improved for a while under the previous government. They were far from perfect but limits on the sale of alcohol and the introduction of the cashless debit card restricting the amount which could be spent on non-essentials did help.

This government, along with the territory government, removed those restrictions. In doing so they went against the advice of the local elders, mostly the women, who could see that the restrictions had reduced the problems. Now some "restrictions" are back in place but they are minimal and unlikely to make any real difference. All that is said is that you cannot buy take-away alcohol on Mondays and Tuesdays. On other days you will only be able to buy it between 3pm and 7pm.

I doubt it will work. It certainly won't work on its own.

Like everyone else unemployed aboriginal/indigenous people are supposed to be actively seeking work in order to get benefits. The reality however is that many, perhaps most, do not. It is a problem with many unemployed people. They lack education. They lack employable skills. They live in places and under circumstances which make the likelihood of getting and retaining employment unlikely.

When measures which might have some degree of success are suggested  and even on occasion implemented they all too often get dismantled again. Perhaps the funding runs out or the people running a scheme move on or retire. 

There is also another problem which is almost never recognised. This is the way in which some people, often outsiders, demand that any intervention is "culturally appropriate". They demand that language and customs be retained under all circumstances. When indigenous people, often women, do speak up they are told things like, "No, your children must be educated in your own language. They can learn English but it is not their mother tongue. That must be retained." It doesn't matter to these cultural adherents that the same level of materials is not available or that the language lacks the vocabulary for counting the way "white" people do. They see the "preservation of culture" as more important. 

It doesn't matter them that "dot paintings" are not an ancient tradition or that the "welcome to country" arose out of a piece of theatre late last century. A whole industry has grown up around all this. It employs a lot of people but it may not be in the best interests of those in receipt of the programs under which these decisions are made.  Successive governments have listened to those who are more concerned with the retention of "culture" even when it is known to be false than the real needs and wants of indigenous people. That won't change while there is money to be had for perpetuating all this.


Tuesday 24 January 2023

Do we actually need a "national" day?

In two days from now we will be "celebrating" or "mourning" on Downunder's national day.  It will be a public holiday. Some people will go to work and others won't.

I personally wish there was no such thing as our national day and no public holiday to go with it. Everyone who goes to work can turn up as usual thank you very much.

I know this will shock some people but I am fed up with being told I have to be a "proud" Downunderite. I am fed up that I am told I need to do this while also being told that I should be "ashamed". I am supposed to be ashamed because it celebrates white settlers taking over from the "original inhabitants". 

Whilst doing all of this the country has been celebrating Chinese New Year, made much of in the media. Other celebrations will also occur, some national, some religious, some "celebrating diversity" and more. Oh, we are big on "celebrations". 

That is, we are big on celebrations unless they are WASP or WASC. These "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or Catholic" are not quite as acceptable. The government has not yet banned Christmas or Easter but these things are not as acceptable as Ramadan or Hanukah. Christmas and Easter apparently don't celebrate any sort of "diversity".

I wonder about this. I am I suppose a WASP of sorts.  I am "white" and my ancestors are not exactly "Anglo-Saxon" but I suppose "Celtic" is close enough.  And yes, Presbyterian - so Protestant if you wish. New Year's Eve is Hogmanay. People sing "Auld Lang Syne". I belong to a clan (indeed am a Life Member of my clan's society) and that clan has a tartan. It is not merely a sept of another clan. I even know a few words of Scottish Gaelic, something about Shetland lace and Scottish literature. 

None of this is a matter for "celebration" here. It doesn't get much mention in the media, if it gets mentioned at all. Instead I am apparently someone who should never mention such things. I belong to that group of people who ancestors were responsible for "genocide" and "dispossession" and so much more. It doesn't matter that my ancestors came here long after the first settlers, although not so recently as some.  I am still in the wrong. I need to apologise for things I did not do, that my own ancestors did not do. I need to acknowledge other flags and the "country". The present government is planning on dividing us still further and perhaps forever.

I really don't think we need a national holiday. There is nothing to celebrate.


Monday 23 January 2023

Paying for the ambulance

is something I would expect to do. My health cover allows for two trips a year. It is also possible to buy further insurance.

We had the further insurance for the Senior Cat. It is just as well we had that because it was used, more than once. 

But before the last state election there was a big campaign by the ambulance staff. They were demanding that "ramping be fixed". There were messages scrawled all over ambulances demanding this. There were protests. They got a lot of media attention with their demands. And they refused to bill the patients. The service would be "free" until their demands were met.

It was of course all a ploy to get the now government elected. They went quiet, very quiet, after that. The problems are not fixed, if anything they are worse than before. And now the ambulance service is trying to get the money they should have got from patients at the time.  

Now yes, if you use a service like that you should pay for it if you can. The ambulance personnel who were here for the Senior Cat were, with one exception, kind and caring and efficient. On one occasion one of those involved stopped me in the shopping centre a week or so later and asked,"How's your dad doing?" Out of all the situations they had dealt with in between this person remembered the Senior Cat and seemed to genuinely want to know. We would have been happy to pay for the service.

But the tactics the ambulance union was using had nothing to do with patient care. They were only concerned with winning an election. At the aged-care residence one of them saw me looking at the graffiti on the waiting ambulance. He told me, "I don't like all this stuff but we've been told we have to do it." Yes, I imagine they were left with little choice. 

There would have been some who would have been keen to join in the action, others who were less keen but still supported some action. I wonder though about the billing issue. We are now almost a year away from the last of the action and it is now that people are suddenly getting bills. Those bills are big too. People who believed they would not have to pay are now being expected to quickly find the money.

If the ambulance union had been running an honest campaign which was genuinely designed to support the members and improve the service it might well be that people would sigh and think, "I knew it was too good to be true" and then pay. But the campaign was not about that and people have known this for months. Questions have been raised about it before now. The new government has so far done nothing about the situation while still finding time and money for other and much less important purposes.

Perhaps the editorial this morning suggesting that the bills should be paid from union funds is not so unreasonable after all? 

Sunday 22 January 2023

I lost a 93yr old young friend

last week. As she had a heart condition it was not unexpected but it was, and is, still one of those things I did not want to happen. This is all purely selfish of me. E... was no longer well enough to enjoy life.

I know that because I had not heard from her since November, early November. This was not like E... 

E... and I first got to know each other many years ago. At the time she was President of a group we both belonged to. I liked her instantly. E... ran a good meeting. She was efficient, well prepared, in control and able to get volunteers for everything. Along the way we all had a laugh as well. 

I have been to enough meetings in my life to know how rare that is. E... had been a junior primary school principal and was, as she put it to me later, "experienced in at least trying to herd cats". She certainly knew about herding other things like sheep. Perhaps that helped.

Under her guidance the organisation did things. They ran all sorts of activities and went places. I wondered what would happen when her term as President came to an end. 

In typical E... fashion she managed the transition. She was there to support the new President in the early stages but she did it without interfering. She continued to volunteer to do things. There was a trip to another state that I always regret I could not go on because it was mentioned more than once in later years. It had been good fun, well organised and those who went had been surprised at how much more they had done than they had expected to do. That was E... all over. Perhaps that was the teacher in her, "I can get them to learn that along the way."

We went through more Presidents. E... was always there in the background. Her knowledge and experience was invaluable. Things changed as things invariably do change. E... embraced things like the mobile phone and the computer. Email meant she could get me to send her "things I need to know". 

We both left the group but, about once a month, E... would phone me. There would always be something she wanted to know. If the detail got too much for her past the age of 90 she would cheerfully tell me, "We won't go into that...there's something else I need to know". I loved her "having conniptions" and "now I was thinking and you are the only person who will know..." We talked about all sorts of things until she grew tired.

E... got on well with the Senior Cat although they only ever met by phone conversation. He used to say he would have liked to have her as his deputy in school...very high praise from him. Perhaps they are now plotting woodwork and knitting classes somewhere else. 

Saturday 21 January 2023

High Court judges do not

"comment" or "talk" to people about contentious issues. They can't. To do so would be very dangerous indeed. There is always the possibility that they will be called on to hear a case concerning those contentious issues. They may have to make a judgment on related matters put before them. That said of course they do discuss things among themselves and there are a very small number of other people in the legal fraternity they will consult at times - but such things are rare.

That makes it very unlikely indeed that the Prime Minister is correct when he says he has talked to High Court judges about the proposed "Voice to Parliament". If he has even mentioned it then any discussion would have been quickly deflected. He may even have been told outright, "We can't discuss that." What seems more likely is that such remarks are an underhand way of trying to suggest that the High Court supports the proposal. It doesn't. It has no opinion because it cannot have an opinion.

It is also clear that the Prime Minister has not sought the advice of the Solicitor-General. This is so even when it is the S-G's role to advise on matters related to the Constitution. Is this arrogance or uncertainty? 

The idea that we are being asked to add something to the constitution without full and proper legal advice is cause for genuine concern. At very least the S-G's department should have been consulted about the wording. The words matter. How the words are put together matters too. 

At least one former High Court judge, now being retired, has expressed reservations about the Voice to Parliament. I know two Silks with long experience in Constitutional law who have expressed similar private reservations to me. They have indicated there are other members of the legal profession with similar reservations.

When we are making our own decisions about the issues surrounding this topic we need to be aware of these things. 


Friday 20 January 2023

Too many layers of government?

We had council elections late last year. Unlike state and federal elections there is no compulsion to vote in council elections. Nevertheless I voted. 

My preferred candidate for Mayor did not get in and the local community will be the poorer for it.  There were some nasty accusations made by and about some candidates for council. Thee were promises made by the winning candidate which cannot possibly be met but this is politics isn't it? 

Perhaps the only thing to be said for the results in this council area is that all the vacancies were filled. We have a functioning local council of sorts. This surely has to be better than those councils which are having "supplementary" elections at council expense because not all the vacancies were filled. One council has just the mayor and one councillor. Nobody else put their hands up. Another has two vacancies, another several more. It seems people no longer want these roles unless they have political ambitions. Our current mayor ran for parliament and lost. Another councillor is eyeing a political career after some experience at local level. 

The Senior Cat used to say we were "over-governed". He was always active in local affairs. As a school principal it was inevitable. He did not have time to be on the local council - and yes, it takes time to do the job properly. Of necessity he had to work with each council in the city over things like rubbish collection at the school, the parking restrictions around the school, which trees they wanted on the school grounds and the best dates for various activities. Every council had different regulations and it all took time. There were layers of bureaucracy even within the council. Like every other school principal there were times when he acted first and sought permission to do something late. 

All this happens in a country which has a population smaller than that of California, much smaller. All these layers of government clog up the workings of everyday life. Things do not get done when they should be done and sometimes do not get done at all.

This morning there is more news, this time that the state government wants to set up yet another "advisory council" which will involve yet more elections. This one is for a body which it seems will be very similar to the subject matter of the federal referendum next year. Would we "need" this if we had one less layer of government? If the remaining layer was ultimately answerable to our federal parliament would things actually get done sometimes?


Thursday 19 January 2023

"Geography" lessons

came with "history" lessons and "nature study" lessons at school. They came alongside things like "spelling", "dictation", "grammar", "composition" and poetry. There was "mental", "arithmetic" and "geometry" too as well as "PE" (physical education) and "Art and Craft".

I  found most of school pretty dull. Having been told something once I was not very interested in having to do it again. I could spell all the words at the beginning of the week. Why couldn't I have some new, more difficult words?  I knew my times tables and how to add fractions too.

And yes, geography. I knew something about geography. It was partly because of that little toy train I was given at age three. At first it went everywhere but then my paternal grandfather told me trains could not go in the water. They had to use a bridge. We went and looked at the bridge and at the other bridges. We looked at how the bridges moved so the ships could go to the wharf. He told me about ships. Learning about ships meant learning about maps and then about so much more. 

It was from Grandpa and the Senior Cat I learned to find where I lived on the map, where my grandparents lived and, when that flimsy air letter came, where his cousin in the very north of Scotland lived.  Grandpa showed me how the world moved. How night became day and day became night and why it was cold in Scotland when it was hot here and how it was cold here when it was hot there - or as hot as it ever got.  I wanted to know what a desert was and why it didn't rain there. I also discovered what a street directory was and made a nuisance of myself wanting to know how you got from one place to another. There was a lot I did not know but I think I went to school reasonably well informed for a four year old child.

It now seems that all this is considered too difficult. Children won't be taught about some of these things. What they will be taught about other things is not what I was taught and they will also be taught differently. 

The Senior Cat's cousin taught geography for many years. He rose through the ranks and became more disillusioned. He thought students could learn more when he left schools twenty or so years ago. I have yet to talk to him about the "new" syllabus which has been sent out to schools but others are already saying it has been "dumbed down" in an attempt to fit in "all the other things" students "need to know". They won't be taught about continents or the difference between "climate" and "weather" but "global warming" is there. I am not sure how you can teach one without the others but the "experts" seem to think it is possible. They won't be taught about the rest of the world, just our northern "neighbours". 

Perhaps it won't matter if people stop travelling because of concerns about fossil fuels but I am glad I had Grandpa to tell me about the world. It taught me a lot.


Wednesday 18 January 2023

Discriminated against?

People who identify as "aboriginal" find it more difficult to get start-up grants, or so we are being told. 

The  immediate suggestion of course is that this is "because they are aboriginal". However there may be a great deal more to it than that. 

When someone mentions the word "grant" I feel that sense of despair and frustration most academics must feel. I can remember all too well how tense things were in the research unit I once worked in. It was time to apply for a renewal for their grant from the Social Science Research Council. They were doing good work. It was providing the government with essential information. They had detailed plans about what was to be done next. My tiny piece of research was there in the list of things which were being done and the importance (or otherwise) of it was added to the list of why the unit needed to survive. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the result. When it came there was a sigh of relief. One staff member's funding was not renewed but he wasn't in the least concerned. He was off to, for him, greener pastures. Salaries would not be increased but they were still being paid. Plans could be made for the next round of funding. The pressure was back on but in a different way.

Out in the real world there were undoubtedly thousands of other individuals and groups also looking for grants for all sorts of reasons. Some would succeed and others would fail. People would be given grants for apparently ridiculous activities. Some would succeed because they "know the right people". Others would fail, indeed most would fail.

It isn't easy to get a grant. I thought of this as I read the article claiming that "aboriginal" people were discriminated against when it came to grants funding. I had been given it by someone who asked, "What do you think Cat? Do you think we need to do something about it?"

I considered this carefully, very carefully. In the end I said I saw no reason to do anything about the funding side. People who identify as aboriginal actually have access to all grant funding generally available and they also have access to funds set aside specifically for aboriginal people. I did suggest that more help could be given with making grant applications. That met with a concerted groan but an acknowledgment that it is very difficult to write a successful grant application if you know nothing about the process. 

It is possible to have a very good idea and have put a lot of work into it but it can still fail to get a grant. It can fail for any number of reasons. That said the idea that it fails solely because someone is "aboriginal" is not one I would subscribe to. I am almost certain that if the projects were looked at (as most are) without knowing the ethnicity of the aboriginal applicant(s) then the success rate would be not very different from the rest of the community - and that success rate would be low.  This is just how it happens to be. It is even likely that, in most cases, those awarding the grants are unaware of the ethnicity of those involved unless a point is made of mentioning it. 

I am much more concerned about people like a friend of mine who, despite having a great many well regarded academic papers and several books to her name, has never managed to get a big research grant. Being disabled as well as female has just made it more difficult but she keeps on working and using smaller grants for the same purposes. Her students on the other hand have an unusually high success rate in examinations and job applications. Other staff go to her for help with their grant applications because she knows what they should emphasise and how they should put it.

Yes, there is discrimination out there. It may be however that it is not where those claiming "it's because I'm aboriginal" say it is. Grant applications, any sort of grant applications, are hard work and they fail more often than they succeed. If they do, you try again.

Tuesday 17 January 2023


There is a piece in this morning's paper about a church group which has asked a local council not to put up another flag pole for the purpose of flying the "rainbow" flag. Apparently the council in question already flies the national, state, Aboriginal and Torres Strait flags. 

The church in question is undoubtedly a very conservative one and they may well disapprove of any sort of sexual orientation or relationship outside the "male-female and sexual relations only after marriage". If that is how they feel then they are fighting a losing battle but...the flag flying?

I belonged to the Girl Guide movement, first as a Brownie, then as a Lone Guide, a Guide, a Cadet and a Guider. I finally left it all behind when I went to university in a country on the other side of the world. Until then I had some fun and I did some hard work. I still have a close friend from that time and I know others. We did some things that might not happen now. I don't know.

One of those things was how to raise and lower our national flag and how to fold it. This might now sound more like the sort of thing that the Communist youth groups learn in Russia or China but we did it and other things that have probably long gone. Yes, it is a while since I attended a meeting but back then all this was considered to be just something we did.

I remember seeing our national flag flown and all the maritime flags in the port where my paternal grandfather had his business. There may have been other flags but the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Island flag had not even been designed back then. They could not have been flown....and of course homosexual relations were still illegal so there was no "rainbow" flag.

Recently some of our politicians have appeared for press conferences standing in front of Aboriginal flags and Torres Strait Island flags and the national flag has been nowhere in sight. There are demands our national flag should be changed by those who want to erase the past. Now we are finding that multiple flagpoles are being put up - often at considerable expense - and flags are being flown not out of national pride but to make political statements.

The Flags Act of 1953 has been amended to allow the flying of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags but the national flag takes precedence at all times. Where multiple flags are flown it is the national flag which should be raised first and lowered last. Should we see press conferences without the national flag or the flag in the wrong position? No, of course we shouldn't. Why then are people allowed to do this? These are political gestures. Those flags have their place and would have far more impact if flown on significant occasions rather than at all times.  The "rainbow" flag has no status at all. It is not recognised as an official flag.

I know not everyone will agree with me but I believe we should retain our national flag as it is because it represents our coming together as a nation. It honours the people who were here prior to white settlement through the "Southern Cross" and it honours settlers with the flag of the country the first settlers came from. I believe that the Aboriginal flag should be flown next to the national flag on occasions of special significance to Aboriginal people but not at all times. I believe the same of the Torres Strait Island flag.

I don't believe the "rainbow" flag should be flown next to any of these things but this is not out of any homophobic belief on my part. I simply see it as a symbol belonging to a minority of people who just happen to feel more comfortable in something other than a male/female relationship. I don't think that needs to be displayed for all the world to see because their relationships should not take precedence over any other legal relationship. 

Perhaps I am wrong about this. I might be. I just wish the church in question had thought about it this way though - rather than making demands which cannot and should not be met.  


Monday 16 January 2023

Keeping the bird bath full

is a twice daily undertaking in the heat.

The bird bath in the garden was made by the Senior Cat's brother. G... was a potter and it was a Christmas gift to the Senior Cat and my mother many years ago. The base on which it stood was broken in the move to this house but the wide, shallow bowl remains.

It is under the small orange tree. The tree itself is a miniature, only about one and a half metres high. It won't grow any bigger. The neighbourhood cats cannot climb it and then pounce on anything underneath. Pluto, the neighbourhood blue Burmese, will sometimes lie there. He doesn't bother the birds. They do not bother him. They are more wary of the other cats.

In the winter the bird bath may only need refilling twice a week. It depends on the weather and whether there has been rain. In summer I fill it twice a day. 

I fill it first thing in the morning. It is almost as if the birds are waiting for this, as if they tell one another I am doing this.  Occasionally some of  them even sit on the fence and watch. When I move back they come in chattering and drinking from the same water they are bathing in. Birds have no sense of hygiene! There are sparrows, blackbirds, peewits, magpies, ravens, lorikeets, honeyeaters, cockatoos, kookaburras and more. I don't know the names of all of them. It doesn't matter. Some of them dive in, others dip gently. They splash themselves with their wings and duck their heads and then shake themselves. 

If I keep the hose running for a little longer and turned to a fine spray the young sparrows and others will dart through the spray. It is a game for them. They go around and around deliberately darting through the water before flying off - presumably to find breakfast somewhere. I don't feed the birds. It is tempting but I have resisted. It is better for them to find their own food somewhere else in the garden or elsewhere.

But water is different. They really use very little of it. I pour the left over contents into the garden morning and evening and then refill the bowl. The garden is being given a little extra water. The birds have enough to drink.

And it is used by the cats, the lizards, the occasional dog. On one wonderful occasion it was even used by a young koala. 

I like to think I am at least trying to do something to help. Perhaps I am because this morning one of the young sparrows sat on the very end of the hose for a moment and looked at me. It was as if s/he was saying "thank you". That's thanks enough. 

Sunday 15 January 2023

We have a potato shortage

and the chips are down! Chips are scarce! They are even off the menu in some places! There are limits to how many packets of frozen chips you can buy in the supermarket! This is an absolute disaster!

Well yes, we do have a potato shortage at the present time. The chief reason for it has been the weather. Flooded potato fields do cause supply problems. I feel concerned for the farmers who own the fields, who have done all the back breaking work, who have lost any hope of any income from those fields.

I also feel concerned for the owners of fish and chip shops, of cafes where chips and potato wedges should be appearing on the menu. 

I must also confess I am partial to the occasional hot chip. I am even quite fussy about hot chips. I like them crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I don't want them drowning in fat or oil. And they need to have just the right amount of salt, not too much.  Good hot chips are a rare breed. They tend to be expensive for my budget. I do not indulge very often. 

At my last university I lived in self-catering student accommodation unit. There were eleven of us  in the unit. It was part of my role to keep an eye on the younger students and to do so as unobtrusively as possible. 

Apart from ensuring nobody was anorexic and everyone had enough to eat I didn't worry too much about what they were eating. In fact most of them ate remarkably sensibly and well on very limited budgets. We sometimes had shared meals. If that happened the boys would go to the halal butcher and get the meat so I could make small pasties for everyone.  I would use the one brand of pastry sheets they approved of too. The mother of one boy lived not too far away. He sometimes went home for the weekend and she would send him back with big bags of home made Italian biscotti for us all to enjoy. 

In the general way the students would use the shared kitchen without too much trouble. They never once came to me about arguments. I used to wonder about this. How could ten students from such disparate backgrounds get along so well together? There were three Muslims, a Sikh, a Hindu and a devout Catholic from Argentina. Even the other four came from families who had migrated no more than two generations before. How did they manage to get along so well?

No, it was not hot chips but it might have been rice cooker, or more than one rice cooker. It was the boys who used the rice cookers the most. If I looked into the kitchen in the late afternoon there would often be two or even three rice cookers gently cooking away. The boys would come back and put in plain rice and water and set them going. When it was done they would pile it on to a plate, sprinkle it with soy sauce and consume it as an afternoon snack. It was much cheaper than chips even when there was no potato shortage. It was less effort too. Often the exercise would be repeated when they finally decided it was time to eat at night. Then they would add a few vegetables and a little protein. It was not the best of diets perhaps but it was adequate and it was within their budgets.

But if they did not have time for this? Then there were the "pot noodles". Only the boys ate pot noodles. I have never eaten a pot noodle pack but there were plenty of those too. I suspect they were the equivalent of hot chips for many of them. A shortage of pot noodles would have been considered a disaster. It was what they went to when there constraints on time or they wanted a more flavoursome food fix. 

We girls ate the biscotti and, when we could afford it, fruit as snacks. But I wonder about hot chips? If they had been easy and cheap to do would we have succumbed to the temptation?


Saturday 14 January 2023

If you are not doing well at school

and you are over the leaving age should you be asked to leave?

The question has come up again after the final year results came out. It comes up every year. All schools, not just fee paying schools, want to keep their results looking good. 

Some schools also have suspiciously high results. Are we really expected to believe there was a 100% or close to 100% pass rate? Did all those students do so well they obtained a place at university which was their first choice? We all know it doesn't work like that. Even the schools themselves do not try to pretend that happens.

But what about the other students, the students who are struggling? I went through school on the old Public Examinations Board or PEB system. There was Intermediate (sub-O level), Leaving (rather like the old O levels) and Leaving Honours (in standard rather less than A level but a bit above the O level grades). Very few students actually did Leaving Honours. You could get to university on good Leaving results or go to teacher training college. All you needed for what was then called "technical college" was a few Intermediate subjects.  

All this was of great concern to the Senior Cat when he was principal of several rural "area schools".  The area school stream was not a problem. It was like the then technical high schools in the city except that exams were internally set and marked. The PEB stream was different. The exams were externally set and you had to pay to do each subject separately.  Being relatively small schools compared with the big city schools the Senior Cat and his teachers always had a fair idea whether students would pass or fail. They could have suggested to anyone that they did not enter for any particular subject. I remember one boy who was really struggling with Intermediate physics saying he thought he would not pass. The teacher (who didn't know much physics himself but had to teach it) suggested he not sit the exam. The Senior Cat said, "No. He might just manage it. He won't need to do it again." The boy did get through on the lowest acceptable pass rating.  I remember all this because I helped him as he tried to do all the problems at the rear of the text book.  Doing that helped me pass the exam as well.

In some schools this boy would not have done the exam at all and it would have changed a lot of things. (He went on to do science at university and work in the wine industry winning a number of awards.)  

This is what makes it so difficult. Nobody wanted him to fail and failures don't look good on academic records but should that stop people if they want to try? Do we need to be realistic and say, "If you want to try then do try. Yes, you may not succeed but at least you will have tried. You will have had the experience. If you don't succeed then you can try again." There are very few instances where failing once is the end of the matter.  

A previous Governor of this state once told me that no Rhodes' scholar gets there at the first attempt. They always need to try at least twice.  Failing the first time is not really failure. It is a practice run for the real thing. Candidates who don't try again are never going to be good enough for that particular scholarship. 

It may be the same with some school examinations. Failure the first time around doesn't need to be a disaster. It can be a learning experience. "I tried the exam but I didn't really know what to expect. Now I do know and I can try again."

And if you don't want to do it at all? Shouldn't there be other pathways you can follow? Failing an exam or not sitting one at all should not be seen as the end of the world. Schools should be proud of all students who do the best they can. Does the overall result really need to count more than the individual one?

Friday 13 January 2023

Am I responsible for

what my ancestors did? Am I also responsible for what my neighbour's ancestors did?

My paternal great-grandfather was a ship's pilot and a marine cartographer. I am trying to imagine a scenario where, instead of bringing a ship safely into port, my great-grandfather was perhaps drunk and caused a ship to over turn. Perhaps the cargo would have been lost and, worse, people would have lost their lives. Fortunately we know of no such incidents. 

Imagine though that there was one and now our family was being sued by the descendants of the sailors who lost their lives. These descendants are now demanding financial recompense for the loss of their own great-grandfathers in an incident over which we had no control.

Or imagine that my maternal great-grandfather, about whom I know very little apart from the fact that he ran the mission, was now accused of raping an aboriginal girl on the mission he ran. What if a descendant of that girl was now demanding that we provide financial support for the present and future generations?

Now remember we have had no part at all in the actions of either great-grandfather. We have never met him. Perhaps the details surrounding the first incident are reasonably clear. There are the court and insurance papers and reports in the newspaper of the day. Some compensation was perhaps paid in accordance with the way such things were done at the time.

In the second instance suppose there is nothing more than a letter from my great-grandfather to another minister of the church at the time. It informs him of the allegations made against my great-grandfather and those allegations are denied. There is DNA evidence of some relationship but it could also be because one of my great-grandfather's children married an aboriginal woman and they had two children. It is their grandchildren who are now asking to be paid for what was done in the past.

Now all of this is of course simply imagined scenarios of what might have happened if such allegations had any basis in fact. My ancestors did no such things. But even if they had done such things am I now responsible? Must I apologise? What if I have children and they are relying on my financial support to finish school? Are they going to be denied the opportunity to finish school so that another family can be "compensated"?

There were terrible things done in the past and I am deeply grateful my family can find no instances of them being involved in the great atrocities of the past. Even if they were however I do not see how I can be held responsible for those actions now. I was not there. I did not even have the power to be indirectly involved through a vote to perhaps elect a member of parliament who decided the policies involved. 

You will now have realised what I am talking about of course. I really don't believe we should be offering "compensation" to the descendants of those who were wronged in the past. I do not believe we should be apologising to them. We can acknowledge the wrong doing but it should not involve financial compensation or apologies. Instead we need to look at who needs help now and the best way to give it as we understand things now. It may be another hundred years from now there will be people who will say, "That's not the way something should have been done" but they won't be responsible for what we did. 

Is demanding this sort of financial "compensation", especially if you are not the person in greatest need of help, any better than theft?

Thursday 12 January 2023

Cardinal Pell was

a divisive figure.  I never met him and I am not sure that I would have liked him had I met him. He did not appeal to me as a person.

I confess I don't have much time for the idea of Cardinals either. I have known some Archbishops and some Bishops and I suppose they are administrators of a sort. They have been varied characters. 

One Archbishop was a wonderful, gentleman and gentle man. His niece is a nun and I met him at more than one event she has invited me to attend. It was interesting to watch how the children present kept gathering around him and talking to him. A friend tells me that the same thing happens to the current Pope. It is the way it ought to be.

I have met a number of Roman Catholic Bishops too, along with numerous priests. They have varied in personality as much as the rest of the population.

On the Anglican side I have also had more than my fair share of meetings with an Archbishop and Bishops. One of them was a rather ridiculous figure who actually wore gaiters. Another was covered in mud. He was helping to clear a blocked drainage channel on a property and had all us children singing ridiculous verses to a campfire song as we helped. 

More seriously though I have worked with many such people. I don't know them well. Our contact is often brief. It has always been courteous. They have been demanding because there has been a job to be done but they usually have listened to what can and cannot be done and how best to do it. Without exception they have always wanted what was best for other people. 

All these people are acutely aware of the danger of being wrongly accused of serious wrongdoing. They also know that, once made, such an accusation is there for life even if it shown to be false. They know that even a unanimous decision of the High Court won't stop accusers continuing their campaigns. 

There was an email from one such man this morning. He's a good man. I like him even though our beliefs are very far apart. In it he told me, "The dead can't defend themselves. It is up to the rest of us to do that for them, to live that way."

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Disadvantaged children?

Our state newspaper has one of those lengthy articles beloved of newspapers this morning in which we are being told that half the children in the state are "disadvantaged".

Really? Even allowing for the way in which newspapers love to exaggerate should we be concerned by this? What constitutes "disadvantage"?  

It is apparently based on some sort of complicated way of scoring things like the household income, education levels reached, employment and type of employment, housing, internet access, car ownership and more. I suppose all this is one way of doing it and it must provide some sort of valuable information but is it really a score of "disadvantage"?

There are two families I can think of who would probably not be considered disadvantaged.  The parents in one are a doctor and a civil engineer. They have two cars and internet access. They are paying off their own home. They took the two children to New Zealand over Christmas and New Year - to visit family there. The main cost would have been the airfares. The parents make every effort to be around for their children. They read together at night. They cook together. They garden together. At weekends they can be found at all sorts activities from competing in triathlons to strawberry picking in the hills behind us.

The parents in the other family are a tax office fraud specialist and an occupational therapist. They have two cars and internet access and, I assume, are also paying off their home. They have not been away on holiday. Both children are about the same age as the other two, ten and seven. They have new bikes, they have mobile phones and name brand clothing. Unlike the other family the two children are rarely seen outside the house. Talking to them indicates that they spend a lot of time on the internet and, although the ten year can make a sandwich, they don't cook as a family. The "garden" is tidy but it is simply grass cut by someone else. So far their holiday fun has been a day out to a tourist town where they walked the main street and went into one of the "lolly shops". The children told me it was "fun" but they were looking forward to their grandparents caring for them in the coming week because "we can ride our bikes to the park". 

The way the report for disadvantage is handled both these families would be considered in the upper levels of "advantage" but are they really? I may be wrong but I would consider the two children in the first family to be the two who are at real advantage. Their parents are taking the time, however difficult it might sometimes be, to be involved with their children. The other parents, who are obviously very fond of their children too, don't appear to have the same level of involvement. Their children do have all the advantages of a good income but somehow it doesn't seem the same.

I am wondering if there is more to advantage than can be measured by housing, car ownership and other tangible things?

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Of earthquakes and other things

or how to claim money without working for it.

There has apparently been an earthquake in the Top End. It was centred underwater and out at sea but still felt by the residents. It was a prolonged event - almost two minutes apparently and came in at over seven on the Richter scale. That's quite a quake. If the epicentre had been on land and in an urban area then there would likely have been a lot of damage.

I would prefer to stay out of earthquake zones. At the same time I wonder how many people will make claims for minor damage to their properties "because that's what we pay insurance for" without thinking through the consequences.

The western part of the Top End is also experiencing issues with flooding at present. No, that part of the world is not a dry desert. There are rivers and plenty of vegetation exists. There have been attempts to commercially crop up there too. As with many other government schemes these have not been an absolute failure but they have not been a success either.  Distance and greed have much to do with this. It could still be done but there would be a need to recognise that different sorts of crops would need to be grown and the returns would need to be lower. It would be hard work. 

A properly run scheme with much smaller returns could help to provide some of the fresh fruit and vegetables communities in the Top End need. It seems nobody wants to do the necessary work and there are other convenient cultural "issues" which will prevent it.

At the other end of the country there is the leader of a state's aboriginal group claiming the group has ownership of a vessel washed up on the shore of land they say they own. It landed there after losing a rudder in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. The aboriginals want the vessel handed over to them or to have a third of the original value of the vessel given to them.  The law of concerning shipwrecks can be quite complex but this appears to be nothing more than a grab for money for which there is no need to work. Will the aboriginal group succeed in their quest for money? Almost certainly yes. To do otherwise would be political suicide.

I have been thinking of other examples too, examples of where "compensation" is paid or money is handed over to "disadvantaged" groups without any proper expectations. Not so long ago a group I belonged to thought about applying for a small grant to do something. It would have been an interesting and worthwhile exercise but we decided against it. We decided against it because we felt that what we would be giving back was not enough to justify asking for the grant even when we had been told we would almost certainly be successful. It was the right decision. As one member of the group put it, "At least we won't look as if we were just looking for money."

We all know the saying "money doesn't grow on trees" but there still seems to be a belief that "it's ours" or "we have a right to it" and "if I can get it I will". One of the neighbours and I were discussing the Voice proposal yesterday. I would have expected her to be absolutely and unthinkingly in favour of it. What she said surprised me, 

"I won't be voting for it because I think we need to reassess how we help. It's no good just giving out money for programmes. People have to learn to work for it and give back."

I wonder if that would change anything?


Monday 9 January 2023

Trying to shut down debate

There are complaints in the media and elsewhere that the government is trying to shut down debate over the "Voice" to parliament. Is this true?

If you have been reading this blog in the past week you will know that I tried to explain something about the "Voice". This is the idea that there should be some sort of constitutionally enshrined body for aboriginal people to make representations to parliament.

Yes, it is an issue of "race". That alone will make it contentious. It will also mean there are many valid discussions to be had about the range of issues around the need or otherwise for such a body.

Now whether you think you might vote "yes" or "no" is your affair but there are two ways to vote. One is to vote on an "emotional" level. The other is to vote in an informed manner having taken into consideration both sides of any debate.

Currently I believe it would be reasonable to suggest the government is asking people to vote in an emotional way. The Prime Minister is saying it is "good manners" to vote "yes". He is spruiking the "yes" vote at every opportunity. He is suggesting failure to vote "yes" is "racist" and that it will "set the country back". He is asking people to vote "yes" to the proposal and saying the details about just how it would work will come after the vote in favour. He is also saying the government will be backing events in favour of "yes" and that donations to a "yes" campaign will be tax deductible. There is no such tax relief available for the "no" campaign.

In past referendums the government has provided information for and against the issue to be decided. There is no legal requirement to do this but past practice has been to provide both sides with a sort of equal status. Failure to do that is raising some questions.

As part of that strategy the government has also shown an unwillingness to provide information which would lead to informed debate. Yes, there are lengthy "reports" available but there are two things wrong with this. 

The first is that these reports are generally written by people who favour a Voice. As an example, the Langton-Calma report runs to several hundred pages and it is firmly in favour of a Voice. There are also the now discredited "voices" of people like Bruce Pascoe. The Prime Minister described "Dark Emu" as an "extraordinary" book. That will stay much longer in the public mind than the much more rigorous academic work debunking Pascoe's "research". 

The second problem is that most people won't read this sort of thing. For the most part they won't know it exists and, even if they do, they will not read it. If they do then they will very often take it as "true" even if it is nonsense.  Very few people are going to even see the report about the New Zealand experience by John Storey for the Institute of Public Affairs. It is filled with legal arguments that those without legal training would struggle to understand. Even Patrick Hannaford's much briefer review for Sky News is of little help for those who have no understanding of the ways in which the Constitution can be interpreted. Anything at all arguing for a "no" case is likely to receive only minimal publicity at best, to do otherwise will lay people open to a charge of "racism".

Yes, it is a highly emotive issue. But is that reason to try and stifle debate? It would seem clear there has been, and there will continue to be, an attempt to stifle debate. Your likely voting intentions will probably help you decide whether this is reasonable.

Sunday 8 January 2023

Activity packs for the children

in this street are on my mind today.

I didn't do them for Christmas last year.  I discussed this with one of the mothers and we both agreed that doing a "hot weather" activity pack made more sense. 

At around now school holidays are losing their shine a bit. There is a "I don't really want to go to school but I do want to see X ...or Y... or Z..."

They are also being told, "It is too hot to go outside". It is too hot. There is the "I don't know what to do" and "Why can't we play on the computer" or "I want to watch A.... on TV."

And yes, there are all the squabbles, the arguments and more...even from this great bunch of generally well behaved children. So....

There are large paper bags with paper, cardboard, cut outs, glue, sticky tape, cards, envelopes, a roll of washi tape, small coloured pencils, brightly coloured pipe cleaners, small note cards, stickers, a rainbow coloured rubber and origami paper. 

It might keep them occupied for an hour.

Saturday 7 January 2023

Electing the "Voice" to parliament

will not be a simple matter.

If we vote for a Voice to parliament for aboriginal people they will be the  people who decide who represents them - or will they? It sounds very democratic - but is it? These are questions which need to be considered.

As pointed out earlier aboriginals have had voting rights for many years. In this state both aboriginal men and women had the right to vote in 1895. My paternal great-grandmother, a woman I dearly wish I had met, was doing her best to see that at least the aboriginal men voted in the state elections from the early 1900's on. She apparently went out there armed with the necessary documents and informed them of their rights and responsibilities and then saw to it that they did vote. Aboriginals have been voting for well over a century. Why then should this be any different? 

The first problem perhaps is that, despite the law, only about 80% of identifiable aboriginals (as opposed to those who self-identify) are on the electoral roll.  There are some complex reasons for this. It was in my lifetime that the last group of aborigines in the desert country made contact with the "white" community. Even now there are groups which live in relative isolation from everyone else. These people have the right to vote but compliance is often quite low. When they do vote research suggests they do as they are told to do. There are stories of voting papers being filled in for them, often because their levels of literacy are low and the concept of voting for someone they have never met to represent them in a faraway place is completely foreign to them.

It could be argued that representation for these groups will be a good thing - except of course they already have representation like everyone else through their members of parliament. But how will likely representatives be able to put themselves or have others put them up for election? How will they get information out to these communities? In short how will the process ensure that the people who get elected actually do represent the needs and interests of the people they are supposed to represent? 

Of course we can say the same to some extent of any election but the Voice is supposed to be something more than that. We are being told it will be an "advisory" group that will much more closely represent what aboriginal people need and want. Will it actually be that?

The answer to that has to be almost certainly no. One reason ATSIC failed is that it was supposed to do this and failed. (Another was corruption and internal mismanagement.) It failed because there is no single aboriginal culture. It failed because there are vast differences between the needs of aboriginals living in remote communities and those living in urban areas. It failed for many reasons just relating to such diversity. The idea that a Voice can speak for all aboriginal people is unrealistic. It is unrealistic even if only because not all people who are aboriginal or who identify as aboriginal recognise one another as being aboriginal. If better educated urban aboriginals try to make decisions on behalf of their less well educated and less well informed remote "brothers and sisters" will the Voice work as intended?  We are being told the Voice is a voice for all aboriginal people but is it?  It is a question which needs to be addressed before any vote because failure this time could have far more serious consequences than before.  

Thursday 5 January 2023

What will "the Voice" Referendum ask us to do?

 The "Voice" referendum will likely ask us to approve or reject wording like this or very similar to this:

There shall be a body, to be called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to Parliament and the Executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Now the government already has the power to do all these things.  We do not need a referendum for any of this to happen. We are not being asked to (a) put anything into the Constitution, (b) take anything out of the Constitution or (C) change what is already in the Constitution. 

Sec 51 of the Constitution (sometimes called "the race power") allows the government to make special laws for the people of any race. It has been used in the past. It has been used to set up bodies like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission or ATSIC. ATSIC failed. (ATSIC failed not because of any government intervention. It failed because of internal corruption and division. In trying to make it as independent as possible various governments tried not to intervene.)

The present government is now saying that a Voice must be a permanent body. They are also saying that by "putting it into the Constitution" it will only be possible to remove it by another referendum.  The government is also suggesting that a "yes" vote will give them the powers to ensure this happens. 

Now there is no preamble to our Constitution. It was initially an Act passed by parliament in the United Kingdom and then here. So where does the Voice go? It could go either into the Constitution or before the Constitution. 

Putting it into the Constitution would require a referendum because the current proposed referendum does not mention placing anything in the Constitution. Such a referendum could be held at any time following a  yes vote and subsequent legislation in the parliament but it would be reasonable to assume it would be held at the next election.

Putting it before the Constitution raises entirely different questions. What status would it have? How binding would it be?  What if there are unintended consequences?

We do not know the answer to these questions. The present government has said it will be an "advisory" body only. How much influence would any advice have? Would any government go against advice given if it was likely they would be held to be "racist"? 

It is perhaps important to note that a similar body was set up in New Zealand. Called the Waitangi Tribunal it was intended that it should be an advisory body to the government with respect to Maori affairs. That sounds similar to the Voice proposal but there is now genuine concern that, rather than advisory, it has become a quasi-judicial body which influences every decision made by the New Zealand government.  

Could the same thing happen here? The answer has to be, almost certainly. While it is said that the Voice would not be a third chamber of parliament it has the potential to influence every decision made. In New Zealand the initial argument that it "only concerns decisions which affect them  or their interests" has been shown to be false because, as citizens, any decision made by government naturally extends to those who are advising. 

What we are being asked to do then is potentially give very wide powers to an advisory group. 

How will that group be chosen? 

The "Uluru statement from the heart"

 is a very emotional and also a very political document. Some of the issues raised in it need to be addressed.  They may not get addressed before the proposed referendum takes place but they will still need to be addressed at some point. If you read yesterday's blog post then you may have noticed a number of things both mentioned and not mentioned in it. There are also some assumptions made. It is a document which should be discussed,  perhaps even challenged, before the referendum takes place. 

The word "aboriginal" is not defined in it but there is talk "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People", of "tribes" and "our people". There is also talk of a "First Nations Voice" and a claim that ownership of the land "has never been ceded or extinguished". Who are these people? Is there any sort of "First Nation"? Who "owns" the land?

The definition of "aboriginal"needs to be addressed. It is going to be very difficult to do but if the referendum succeeds then the election of people to the Voice is going to need to come to terms with this. There will need to be a decision about just who is going to be eligible to vote for the representatives on it and why those chosen as representatives are going to be eligible. This is not a problem which has had to be faced in the past because people have generally been appointed or invited to be part of whichever organisation they work with. More recently there has been talk of people who "box tick" - people who may or may not have aboriginal ancestry but, if they do, it is so far in the past it is difficult to suggest they are at some sort of disadvantage from it. The "our people" mentioned in the Statement cannot be allowed to rely on self-identification or even "acceptance" if they are there to represent an extraordinarily diverse group of people generally lacking in any sort of cohesiveness. 

"First Nations" is a recent term in this country. Although used in the Statement" it is actually not a term which can be applied to aboriginal people here. There were no "nations". There were at least more than 800 tribes. Some were connected with other tribes in their area but many more had not only nothing to do with one another but were not even aware of their existence. Their languages, stories and cultural practices were (and still are) so different that they are not a single cohesive group. There is often surprise expressed that stories and beliefs about "the Dreamtime", cultural practices and ways of life are not the same across the entire continent. How could they be? 

In some areas relationships between tribal groups are such that they still have nothing to do with one another. Where an indigenous language is spoken it is often not recognised or understood by others. What is acceptable in some areas is not acceptable in others. Representing such a disparate group is so difficult that repeated attempts in the past have failed, especially when more outspoken people have tried to impose their ideas on groups that may not even acknowledge one another.

Who "owns" the land? This is a very difficult issue.  In 1992 the High Court recognised that the Meriam people had ownership of an island of an island in the Torres Strait. In doing so they also acknowledged that native title existed for all indigenous people. The decision does not mean that aboriginal people suddenly owned all land. It does not mean that "native title" overrides all other titles. If the referendum is successful however then is there a potential for the Voice to argue that some sort of uneasy co-ownership of all land allows the to make representations about a much wider range of issues than intended?

It is not possible to answer these questions, or many others. What we need to recognise is that the idea of a Voice is not a simple one. So, what are we being asked to do?  

Wednesday 4 January 2023

More on what the referendum is about

and this time I am going to try and look at the actual topic. 

The government is telling us the referendum is about "giving a Voice" to aboriginal people about the matters which concern them". The idea for the Voice has been a long time in the making.

There is an extensive report about the need for a Voice written by aboriginal academics and activists Marcia Langton and Tom Calma. The report itself runs to nearly three hundred pages but it is reviewed here.


It is  important to make several points here. The first is that both Langton and Calma are aboriginal activists of long standing. Politically they on the left. They have both been involved in previous (failed) ventures like ATSIC (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission). Despite this they are powerful voices for the Voice and they support the present government and are supported by it.

The second is that they do not speak for all aboriginals. They do not support and are not supported by other significant aboriginal activists such as Warren Mundine and Jacinta Nampijinpa-Price. (Mundine was the National President of the Labor Party but left in 2012. He then chaired the Coalition government's Indigenous Advisory Council. Nampijinpa-Price has spent many years working on cross-cultural issues and is now a Senator in the federal parliament. ) It is differences like this which need to be noted as they show that there are widely differing opinions among those the for whom the proposed Voice will, it is said, speak.

The third thing that needs to be noted is that none of these people are constitutional lawyers. There is disagreement among constitutional lawyers as to how the issues surrounding the Voice should be handled and what the constitutional implications are. Megan Davis, an aboriginal activist and one of the authors of the actual wording of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, has been appointed to the Balnaves Chair for Constitutional Law. As a strong supporter of the Voice this has allowed her and others to use her position to make carefully crafted statements in favour of the Voice. It is reasonable to say that these sometimes give the wrong impression such as stating that aboriginal people did not have full voting rights until 1983. (Voting was not compulsory for aboriginal people until 1983 but all aboriginals had voting rights many years before that.)

As stated, Davis was one of the authors of the actual wording of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This is what that statement says.


We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.


This statement is, quite naturally, a highly political one. It also raises a number of questions which need to be addressed before a referendum is held.  I will try to start raising those next.